Judges 4, verse 5, states that Deborah “dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” God knew that His people needed a wise judge who would render just decisions—someone who would reject the folly of human reasoning and place their trust in Him. We learn that even during times when women were held in low standing in the eyes of men, Deborah was in a God-given position of power and influence. God chose what mankind considers as the “weak things of the world to put to shame the things which [mankind considers] are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
Deborah was a prophetess who was called by God to be His mouthpiece. She was given the gift of foreknowledge .As a judge of Israel, Deborah had a wide range of responsibilities – deciding controversies, giving verdicts, and executing judgments. In addition, as an Israelite judge, she was tasked with delivering the people out of self-imposed bondage by being lead by God’s spirit in military action. Of all the leaders of the book of Judges, Deborah is shown in the best light: she is sought for her decisions, she is honorably called “a mother in Israel”, she boldly speaks forth God’s commands, she honors God in a song of victory, and no scandals (compare to King David) or moral controversies (compare to Sampson) were mentioned about her.
The people of Israel have suffered cruelly for twenty years under the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan and his military commander Sisera and they were crying for deliverance. Deborah summons Barak, an Israelite General, to go to war with 10,000 men against Sisera. Deborah says that God has promised them victory. When Barak gave Deborah an ultimatum: “If you will go with me, then I will go: but if you will not go with me, then I will not go” (vs. 8). because Sisera had 900 chariots of iron, a formidable military advantage for the times, Deborah said, “I will surely go with you: notwithstanding the journey that you take shall not be for your honor; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (vs. 9). In effect, she said, “You should have put your faith in God, not in me, His servant, nor in any other human being. You should be grateful that God has decided to still use you. Yet, because you have let your fear get the best of you, Sisera’s life will be taken by the hand of a woman. She will get the glory—not you!”
Deborah did not limit God. She did not think to herself, “Oh, I’m just a woman. God couldn’t possibly use me.” Deborah accepted her roles as judge and prophetess, and allowed God to use her as He saw fit.
Deborah was also recognized for her sense of decency and order. We know this because, as a prophetess, she was careful to voice God’s will, and not her own. She was yielded to Him. She did not try to get ahead of God and seek authority that did not belong to her. She could have capitalized on her reputation for making good judgments. She could have, tried to exalt herself. But Deborah knew her boundaries. She and Barak were supposed to work together as a team. Barak was to lead the military into battle; Deborah was to provide wise counsel and support, and express God’s will to the leader of the army.
Because Barak initially failed to provide strong leadership, Deborah had to “stand in the gap” (Ezek. 22:29-30), but she did so reluctantly. So, Deborah, Barak, and the Israelite army go up to Mount Tabor. Sisera gets wind of their plot and takes his massive army, along with the 900 chariots of iron, to the river valley of Kishon. Deborah is unfazed because her trust is in almighty God who has gone out before them down to the valley and utterly defeated Sisera. Just as Deborah prophesied, God miraculously gives complete victory to Barak and the Israelite army. Sisera escapes the battle and goes to hide out at the home of a supposed ally, Heber the Kenite. Heber wasn’t home but his wife, Jael, allowed Sisera into their tent and hid him under a rug. When the infamous Sisera passed out from exhaustion, Jael snuck over and killed him by driving a tent peg through his skull. Thus the glory for the victory over Sisera did indeed go to a woman just as Deborah prophesied.
Deborah stood for courage in a time of fear. She stood for godly wisdom in a time of human reasoning, when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.”
She stood for decency and order in a chaotic time of sexual perversity and idolatry. Deborah was a leader who was an exception to the rule in her time. The godly leadership of Deborah brought the nation of Israel forty years of peace.
In Deborah’s case, Israel lacked leadership, courage, wisdom, faith and zeal for God’s Way. Today, just as in Deborah’s time, people live according to what is right in their own eyes. Doing the right thing and treating others as you would have them treat you have been replaced with “Every man for himself.” Most people live life moment to moment, thinking of only the “here and now,” seldom weighing the consequences before acting.
Do we have the courage to stand for God in a time of fear and confusion in almost every aspect of life? Do we have the confidence in God to know that when He has called us to fulfil His purpose, we can depend on Him to lead us and keep to His word if we faithfully avail ourselves and obey?